SALT LAKE CITY -- All season long Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre insisted he saw small signs of improvement on the field from his football team.

After the final two losses of the year last week against Southern Cal and Saturday's 24-17 setback at Utah, MacIntyre might have seen the biggest indication of all that he's on the right track.

In both instances, the first-year CU coach said he saw tears in the eyes of his players in the locker room. And these weren't just the watery eyes of seniors who had played their final games both home and away.

"That shows me they really believe they should win and that's the first step," he said.

MacIntyre's first season at CU ended Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium with a mistake-filled outing that left the Buffs without a road victory for the fourth time in the past six seasons.

Colorado finished the season 4-8 overall and 1-8 in Pac-12 Conference play a three-game improvement from 2012 when the Buffs won just once. However, the Buffs went 0-4 on the road and will carry an eight-game road losing streak into the offseason.

The Buffs ended the nation's longest road losing streak here two years ago, but they have won just one other time on the road since. That victory came early last season at Washington State.

The victory also gave Utah (5-7, 2-7) a fifth-place finish in the Pac-12 Conference South Division, relegating the Buffs to sixth for the second straight year.

"I have a lot of hope in our fight, our intensity, our focus that we've had," MacIntyre said. "I tell you the seniors were phenomenal."

Once again the Colorado defense kept the team in the game but the offense struggled even when given the ball in scoring position. The Buffs ran eight plays inside the Utah 5-yard line and came away with only three points.

MacIntyre allowed that the play calling might have been too conservative the first time the Buffs were in a goal-to-go situation, running four consecutive times, but he didn't believe it was the case the second time when he ultimately settled for a field goal.

"To be a good red zone team, you have to be able to run the ball in most of the time, to be really high efficiency in the red zone," he said. "That's something we've got to work on and I've got to get us better at."

The Buffs -- wearing all-white uniforms and black helmets for the first time in the program's history -- did not get off to a good start. CU gave up two first-quarter touchdowns following fumbles by quarterback Sefo Liufau deep in the Buffs' end of the field. Liufau was sacked on both plays as the offensive line struggled to give him time to throw.

Utah quarterback Adam Schulz connected with tight end Jake Murphy on a 16-yard touchdown pass for the Utes' first score after taking possession at the CU 34. Utah running back Kelvin York scored on a 6-yard run on the first play after Liufau's second fumble.

It's not that the Buffs didn't have their chances. They just didn't make the plays when they were there to be had.

Wide receiver Paul Richardson was caught by a shoestring tackle on the Buffs first play. Otherwise he might have taken the pass he caught for a touchdown instead of just 20 yards. Liufau's first fumble came on the next play.

Richardson later dropped what would have been a long touchdown pass from Liufau down the sideline and Liufau overthrew wide receiver Nelson Spruce who was open in the end zone for a touchdown.

Utah's only sustained drive for points came early in the second quarter, but the Utes covered 49 yards on one play when Dres Anderson beat Kenneth Crawley on a pass down the sideline. The Utes took a 21-0 advantage on York's second touchdown run five plays later from one yard out.

CU linebacker Addison Gillam added to his standout freshman season by intercepting Schulz and returning it 11 yards to the Utah 5-yard line with just under 9 minutes left in the half.

But the CU offense ran four consecutive times and senior Tony Jones was thrown for a four-yard loss by linebacker Trevor Reilly on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

Colorado finally scored early in the third quarter when Liufau connected with senior tight end Scott Fernandez on a 34-yard touchdown pass down the middle.

The Colorado defense came up with a big turnover in the final minute of the third quarter when Schulz threw to Murphy who fumbled the ball into the end zone as he was being tackled by safety Marques Mosley. Cornerback Jeffrey Hall scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the Utah 42-yard line. Schulz was flagged for a facemask and the Buffs' offense once again started in Utah territory.

The offense drove the ball to the Utah 2-yard line and MacIntyre opted to settle for a 20-yard field goal on fourth-and-goal. Utah led 21-10.

The Buffs drove deep into Utah territory once again late, but this time they managed to score on a 14-yard pass from Liufau to Spruce with 2:30 remaining. CU was within a touchdown at 24-17 and MacIntyre opted to try an onside kick with three timeouts remaining.

CU defenders rewarded their coach by sacking Schulz on a big third-down play and forcing a punt. But Liufau dropped back to pass on first down from his 10-yard line and threw across the middle where Reilly intercepted the ball and responded by throwing it into the stands in celebration.

Contact staff writer Kyle Ringo at ringok@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/kyleringo.

Utah 24, Colorado 17

Colorado 0 0 7 10--17

Utah 14 7 0 3--24

First Quarter

Utah -- J.Murphy 16 pass from Schulz (Phillips kick), 11:26.

Utah -- York 6 run (Phillips kick), :10.

Second Quarter

Utah -- York 1 run (Phillips kick), 11:16.

Third Quarter

Col -- Fernandez 34 pass from Liufau (Oliver kick), 9:15.

Fourth Quarter

Col -- FG Oliver 19, 12:17.

Utah -- FG Phillips 46, 8:39.

Col -- Spruce 14 pass from Liufau (Oliver kick), 2:30.

A -- 45,023.

Col Utah

First downs 20 21

Rushes-yards 25-48 44-155

Passing 273 233

Comp-Att-Int 24-47-1 19-33-1

Return Yards 11 4

Punts-Avg. 8-38.0 7-44.1

Fumbles-Lost 3-2 3-2

Penalties-Yards 2-13 5-43

Time of Possession 28:00 32:00

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING -- Colorado, Adkins 10-38, Powell 5-12, T.Jones 3-(minus 1), Liufau 7-(minus 1). Utah, York 31-132, Schulz 5-20, Radley 2-6, Poole 3-1, Team 3-(minus 4).

PASSING -- Colorado, Liufau 23-46-1-241, Spruce 1-1-0-32. Utah, Schulz 19-33-1-233.

RECEIVING -- Colorado, Spruce 6-66, Fernandez 4-61, Richardson 4-54, Powell 4-33, Goodson 2-11, Liufau 1-32, Slavin 1-7, Adkins 1-6, T.Jones 1-3. Utah, J.Murphy 8-93, D.Anderson 7-94, Norwood 1-25, Fitzgerald 1-16, York 1-5, K.Williams 1-0.